Rev. Barbara F. Meyers gives MysticMag the opportunity to find out more about her Mental Health Ministry.
What can you tell us about your experience and background in the field of Mental Health and Mental Health problems?
In 1978 after the birth of my precious daughter, I developed a severe postpartum depression and was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of our local hospital. This was a very shattering experience for me. After a couple of weeks of good care, I was able to get back to my job as a computer software engineer, but I remained troubled that I had had this experience. Eight years later I was still troubled and told myself that I didn’t want to live my life feeling like this and returned to therapy to deal with the problem. My psychiatrist asked me what I was doing for myself spiritually, and when I said “Nothing”, suggested that I start meditating. This led to a spiritual awakening and a profound healing and recovery from my mental health problems. Eventually it led me to change my career to a ministry focused on mental health issues.
When was your Mental Health Ministry founded and with what objective?
I formally started my ministry in 2004 with these founding objectives:
Our Mission: Compassionate service to people with mental health challenges and to their families, within and beyond the walls of our congregation.
Our Vision: to increase their hope, knowledge, and insight and help them find a sense of meaning in their lives.
Our Strategy: using fellowship, education, advocacy in the public arena, and honoring and deepening their spiritual lives.
Since 20% (it is even higher during Covid) of the US population is diagnosed with a mental health condition each year, 80% or more people have had this experience themselves, or in a loved one at some point. I think a ministry of giving hope to them is an important contribution.
How does Spiritual Direction come into practice within your Ministry?
I was trained by the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, California to become a spiritual director. The term “director” is somewhat of a misnomer as I don’t direct my clients to do anything. Rather, as a spiritual director, I am a companion to my directee’s spiritual journey, helping them to see the presence of the holy in their lives, and to allow this presence to help direct their life’s journey. I have a long-term relationship with a spiritual director myself and it has been very helpful to me.
How beneficial do you believe a sense of community/belonging to be for mental health?
One of the things I did shortly after my spiritual awakening was to become involved with a church community. When I started going to a Unitarian Universalist church I didn’t tell anyone but the minister about my mental health problems. Even though they didn’t know about my illness, the people in the church showed me many kindnesses; they involved me in church projects; they liked the bread I would bake for coffee hour and told me so; they were interested in my ideas. In other words, they treated me as though I was a person with inherent worth and dignity; they treated me with compassion; they offered ways that I could explore my emerging spirituality, searching for what was meaningful and true in my life. My relationship with the church community was very important to my recovery.
What programs do you have available and what do you offer in terms of support and guidance?
As part of my ministry, I have a quarter-time job as assistant director of a local peer support mental health center in Fremont, California called Reaching Across. In my own recovery, my peers, people who had also had experience of living with mental health issues, were very important to give me hope. So, making a place for peer support is an important part of what I do. At Reaching Across, we have many groups that focus on different aspects of recovery including support groups, journaling, artwork, meditation, yoga, tai chi, creative writing, spirituality, and music. Reaching Across is financially supported by our County’s behavioral health services agency, so there is no extra cost to our clients. I don’t proselytize my religion in these activities; I respect all spiritual paths, including those of agnostics and atheists. During covid our groups have been online and any mental health peer from anywhere can join. People who are interested can contact me at [email protected] for information on how to join.
What other kinds of activities do you engage in as part of your ministry?
I have been active within the Unitarian Universalist denomination on issues having to do with disability and mental health. The denomination published a book that I wrote called Held – Showing Up for Each Other’s Mental Health which discusses how congregations can be helpful to people who have had mental health problems and their loved ones. I have spoken at many congregations leading worship services or workshops focused on mental health issues and am always happy for more invitations to speak.
If you would like to find out more about Rev. Barbara Meyers and The Mental Health Ministry, Visit https://mpuuc.org/mhm/